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Denmark scouting report for England: Everything starts and finishes with Christian Eriksen

Christian Eriksen – Denmark scouting report for England: Everything starts and finishes with Christian Eriksen

Denmark will make the short trip down the road for this year’s European Championship with ambition to give a better showing than their dismal 2022 World Cup campaign.

With just one point in a group that featured both Australia and Tunisia, the pressure is on for head coach Kasper Hjulmand to recreate some of the memories of old at a tournament in which Denmark have had remarkable previous success.

Superstars Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup headlined a team littered with talent, leading their country to their first, and only, Euros victory in 1992.

More recently, you will remember their unlikely foray into the latter stages of the 2020 competition, united by the traumatic events in which midfield maestro Christian Eriksen collapsed during their opening match with Finland. Rallied together by the undoubtedly heroic actions of goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel and captain Simon Kjaer, along with Eriksen’s miraculous recovery.

The Danes were able to shake off two consecutive group stage losses and fight their way to the semi-finals. An inspired run cut short by England’s extra-time penalty winner.

This year’s competition will prove decisive for the future of Danish football. Can they knit together the divide between ageing stars and promising youngsters?

A mixed bag in their opening game of this year’s tournament; Eriksen’s return was poetic, but second-half fatigue saw Slovenia surge and ultimately tie the game up.

They should be looking to qualify from Group C in second place, behind England, but Sunday’s game against Slovenia spells concern. If they don’t taste knockout football questions will be asked as to the efficacy of the coaching staff and the relevance of the elder statesmen.

Star Players

It all begins and ends with Eriksen. Truly the heart and soul of Danish football, the Manchester United midfielder is the nation’s current top goalscorer (41) and second most-capped player.

Whilst no doubt the narrative will be centred around his inspirational return to elite level football after suffering cardiac arrest just three short years ago, his vision and creativity is integral to this team’s attacking process. Wielding a wand of a right foot, he specialises in creating something out of nothing. His finish on Sunday was sublime and noticeably deliberate – he sees where he wants the ball to go and ensures it arrives inch-perfect at its destination.

Head coach Hjulmand played down criticism surrounding his lack of consistent game-time with Manchester United: “You cannot hold down that kind of class. I know the critics said he has not played that much at United but for me he is a great player and he showed it today.”

If Denmark are to progress out of their group and beyond they will live and die by Eriksen’s performances.

Manchester United team-mate and prodigy Rasmus Hojlund will likely be looked to as the primary goal scorer in this competition. Still just 21 years old, Højlund scored seven goals in eight games during Denmark’s qualification campaign – an impressive record.

Rasmus Hojlund
Rasmus Hojlund - Getty Images/Jure Makovec

An explosive but raw prospect, his movement in behind and tenacity in the press should open doors for a team that can get bogged down in possession. He has been deployed as a lone striker as well as in a partnership with Mikkel Damsgaard or Jonas Wind, and will feature heavily in every aspect of the Danish attack.

He came agonisingly close to doubling the Danish lead on Sunday having broken free from his marker - England must be wary of his pace and cunning in those chaotic moments of transition.

Rather surprisingly, Tottenham outcast Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has been a consistent source of goals for the international team despite his reputation as a defensive-minded player. Not yet past his prime, look to him as an emotional conduit as well as a physical presence in the box with a new-found eye for goal.

Recent Form

Meeting the bare minimum encapsulates an underwhelming qualification campaign for the Danes. Sure, they topped their group. But with Slovenia and Finland representing their stiffest competition they hardly set the world alight.

Losses to Kazakhstan, Northern Ireland, and a draw with Slovenia suggested there was work to be done for Hjulmand’s men.

Recent friendly games tell a different story. Unbeaten this year, Denmark have embarked on a destructive tour across Scandinavia, defeating the Faroe Islands, Sweden, and Norway, who fielded both Martin Odegaard and Erling Haaland. The goals are flying in, the defence looks sharp – confidence is flowing.

With their opening fixture with Slovenia representing the best indication of their finally settled line-up, England should feel confident. Eriksen, as expected, was the centre of attention, and not just because of his resurrection. Hojlund was a threat but ultimately came up lacking.

Denmark suffered from the similar condition as England – second-half sniffles. This should be of comfort to Southgate who is clearly grappling with a squad feeling the effects of a long season. England’s youth should prove decisive against Denmark’s ageing team.

Continuity

Familiarity has been hallmarked by assistant coach Morten Wieghorst as one of the great strengths of this Denmark side.

The aforementioned combination of Manchester United duo Eriksen and Hojlund will prove important if the side are to carve out chances in Group C.

But a theme of continuity runs through this squad which contains four players from both Anderlecht and Brentford – five if you count Erikson who played for Brentford before moving to United..

In an interview prior to the team’s departure to Germany, Wieghorst emphasised the importance of relationships built at club level.

Having a collective understanding is vital in international football, where players have such a short time to train together. With only a couple of friendlies and a short preparation period managers struggle to implement their vision and imbue a sense of cohesion into their squad.

Therefore, having a pool of players who understand each other’s tendencies and strengths is a coach’s dream.

How will they line up?

Schmeichel; Andersen, Christensen, Vestergaard; Bah, Hojbjerg, Hjulmand, Kristiansen; Eriksen; Hojlund, Wind. 5-3-2

Hjulmand has struggled to settle on a formation let alone a starting XI, but their set up on Sunday shows he may have finally decided.

Expect five at the back with wing-backs Alexander Bah and Victor Kristiansen, both flying at their respective clubs, providing width and crosses for Hojlund.

Schmeichel will start in goal although Frederik Ronnow has had a strong season for Union Berlin and will provide competition.

Kasper Schmeichel –
Kasper Schmeichel has long since moved out of the shadow of his father Peter - Getty Images/James Baylis

Jannik Vestergaard, Joachim Andersen, and Kjær, will make up what is an experienced back three. All quality defenders, pace is definitely an issue here which could prompt a deep defensive line to compensate.

Eriksen must start, and in his form so too should Hojbjerg. Many will feel Denmark will need some energy to accompany what would otherwise be a leggy midfield – this certainly showed in the latter stage’s against Slovenia. Morten Hjulmand has been earmarked as the antidote, providing balance in this experienced side. However, if Denmark feel the need to turn to level heads against England, the seasoned Thomas Delaney could claim that final midfield spot.

There were conversations about who would partner Hojberg up front, but Wind’s cute flick to set up Eriksen’s goal seem to have put these firmly to bed. Yussuf Poulsen and Kasper Dolberg seem to be the next men up with the youth of Mikkel Damsgaard not yet trusted under the pressures of a major tournament.

Denmark normally look to dominate possession, playing a slow and conservative style. However, they’ve found more success in the moments of chaos and speed, colourfully illustrated by the quick throw-in and cheeky skill that lead to Denmark storming in front. On countless occasions in the qualifying stages the Danes benefited from the confusion of the fast-ball, suggesting Hjulmand might lean into the skid allowing for a more gung-ho approach.

How will they fare?

Denmark should still fancy themselves for that second spot in Group C. Despite moments of significant doubt, England will still expect to top the group comfortably. Serbia showed they are a strong side, but defensive vulnerabilities and a lack of tournament experience should give Denmark an edge.